2020 7b--Jorgensen Supplement

MSH 2020 at Pembroke College, Oxford UK.

B. W. Jorgensen, “Aisthēsis Is Feeling, Say Voices from the Dust.”

Handout A: Extracts from Tolstoy, Macmurray, Murdoch, Steiner, Gass, Berry.

From Leo Tolstoy, What Is Art? (1896). Trans. Aylmer Maude. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1996.


     What is art — if we put aside the conception of beauty, which confuses the whole matter? [48]

     
     In order correctly to define art, it is necessary, first of all, to cease to consider it as a means to pleasure, and to consider it as one of the conditions of human life. Viewing it in this way we cannot fail to observe that art is one of the means of intercourse between man and man.

     Every work of art causes the receiver to enter into a certain kind of relationship both with him who produced, or is producing, the art, and with all those who, simultaneously, previously, or subsequently, receive the same artistic impression.

Speech, transmitting the thoughts and experiences of men, serves as a means of union among them, and art acts in a similar manner. The peculiarity of this latter means of intercourse, distinguishing it from intercourse by means of words, consists in this, that whereas by words a man transmits his thoughts to another, by means of art he transmits his feelings.

     The activity of art is based on the fact that a man, receiving through his sense of hearing or sight another man's expression of feeling, is capable of experiencing the emotion which moved the man who expressed it. [49]

 

     And it is on this capacity of man to receive another man's expression of feeling, and experience those feelings himself, that the activity of art is based. [50]

     Art begins when one person, with the object of joining another or others to himself in one and the same feeling, expresses that feeling by certain external indications. [50]

 

     Art is a human activity, consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that other people are infected by these feelings and also experience them.

     Art is not, as the metaphysicians say, the manifestation of some mysterious Idea of beauty or God; it is not, as the æsthetical physiologists say, a game in which man lets off his excess of stored-up energy; it is not the expression of man's emotions by external signs; it is not the production of pleasing objects; and, above all, it is not pleasure; but it is a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity. [51–52]


[. . .] were the question put: Would it be preferable for our Christian world to be deprived of all that is now esteemed to be art, and, together with the false, to lose all that is good in it? I think that every reasonable and moral man would again decide the question as Plato decided it for his “Republic,” and as all the Church Christian and Mohammedan teachers of mankind decided it, i.e. would say, “Rather let there be no art at all than continue the depraving art, or simulation of art, which now exists.” Happily, no one has to face this question, and no one need adopt either solution. All that man can do, and that we — the so-called educated people, who are so placed that we have the possibility of understanding the meaning of the phenomena of our life — can and should do, is to understand the error we are involved in, and not harden our hearts in it, but seek for a way of escape. [169]

 

From John Macmurray, Reason and Emotion. London: Faber, 1935; rpt. 1972.

 

[. . .] the two great cultural aspects of life which both foreshadow and depend upon our capacity for emotional reason — art and religion. [49]

 

Our emotional life is us in a way our intellectual life cannot be; in that it alone contains the motives from which our conduct springs. Reason reveals itself in emotion by its objectivity, by the way it corresponds to and apprehends reality. Reason in the emotional life determines our behaviour in terms of the real values of the world in which we live. It discovers and reveals [49/50] goodness and badness, right and wrong, beauty and ugliness and all the infinite variety of values of which these are only the rough, general, intellectual abstractions. The development of human nature in its concrete livingness is, in fact, the development of emotional reason. [49–50]

 

Reason develops in the emotional life by living in the sensibility, by the exercise of our sensitiveness to the world; and that means by living in the world with our whole sensuous capacity. [50]

 

Thus the training of the emotions is primarily a training in the capacity of sensitiveness to the object. For by living in our senses I do not mean using our senses for the pleasure they can give us. [. . .] That is only another way of using the senses for an ulterior motive — the motive of self-gratification. I mean, rather, maintaining and increasing our sensitiveness to the world outside, irrespective of whether it gives us pleasure or pain. I mean keeping as fully alive to things as they are, whether they are pleasant or unpleasant, as we possibly can. I mean being open to reality.

     Now, art and religion are the two aspects of human reason in which such awareness is sought and expressed. [51]

 

We are egocentric when we regard the world a existing for our private satisfaction; as a means to our individual ends the development of reason consists precisely in overcoming this self-centredness and becoming able increasingly to escape from our natural bias in our own favour. So long as we think that art and religion are concerned with our pleasure or our consolation; so long as we look on them as activities of our own or of other people which give us something that we want; which make us happy, or protect, or comfort us, we are in a subjective and irrational frame of mind. Now this is the way most of us do regard art and religion (and science too, for that matter). We look upon art as a decoration and a beautifying of our lives. Beautiful things are made for our delight. That is how we look at the matter. Our treatises on Beauty start off, almost without exception, by assuming that the real question about art is why it gives us pleasure; and proceed to try to distinguish good art from bad by the kind of pleasurable effect it has on the spectator or the listener. [52/53] That is an egocentric attitude. Similarly in religion. Most of us think of religion as giving us something; as consoling us in trouble; helping us in difficulties, strengthening us in the face of death, and so on. As if God existed for our sakes! As if our success and our happiness were the meaning of the whole world! So long as we look at art and religion that way — for the satisfaction of our private desires, our natural private desires — we can’t begin to understand what they are, and all our ideas about them will be delusions, expressing only our vanity and self-conceit.

Art and religion are ways of living the personal life — and I mean by that the life of rational consciousness, the real life of human beings. [52–53]

 

From Iris Murdoch, The Sovereignty of Good. London: Routledge, 1970; rpt. 1996.

 

But the most essential and fundamental aspect of culture is the study of literature, since this is an education in how to picture and understand human situations. [34]

 

Objectivity and unselfishness are not natural to human beings. [51]

 

In the moral life the enemy is the fat relentless ego. [52]

 

To silence and expel self, to contemplate and delineate nature with a clear eye, is not easy and demands a moral discipline. A great artist is, in respect of his work, a good man, and, in the true sense, a free man. The consumer of art has an analogous task to its producer: to be disciplined enough to see as much reality in the work as the artist has succeeded in putting into it, and not to 'use it as magic'. The appreciation of beauty in art or nature is not only (for [64/65] all its difficulties) the easiest available spiritual exercise; it is also a completely adequate entry into (and not just analogy of) the good life, since it is the checking of selfishness in the interest of seeing the real. [. . .] But the greatest art is 'impersonal' because it shows us the world, our world and not another one, with a clarity which startles and delights us simply because we are not used to looking at the real world at all. [64–65]

 

The great artist sees his objects (and this is true whether they are sad, absurd, repulsive or even evil) in a light of justice and mercy. The direction of attention is, contrary to nature, outward, away from self which reduces all to a false unity, towards the great surprising variety of the world, and the ability so to direct attention is love. [66]

 

It is in the capacity to love, that is to see, that the liberation of the soul from fantasy consists. The freedom which is a proper human goal is the freedom from fantasy, that is the realism of compassion. [66–67]

 

     These [representational] arts, especially literature and painting, show us the peculiar sense in which the concept of virtue is tied on to the human condition. They show us the absolute pointlessness of virtue while exhibiting its supreme importance; the enjoyment of art is a training in the love of virtue. The pointlessness of art is not the pointlessness of a game; it is the pointlessness of human life itself, and form in art is properly the simulation of the self-contained aimlessness of the universe. Good art reveals what we are usually too selfish and too timid to recognize, the minute and absolutely random detail of the world, and reveals it together with a sense of unity and form. This form often seems to us mysterious because it resists the easy patterns of the fantasy, whereas there is nothing mysterious about the forms of bad art since they are the recognizable and familiar rat-runs of selfish day-dream. Good art shows us how difficult it is to be objective by showing us how differently the world looks to an objective vision. [86/87] We are presented with a truthful image of the human condition in a form which can be steadily contemplated; and indeed this is the only context in which many of us are capable of contemplating it at all. Art transcends selfish and obsessive limitations of personality and can enlarge the sensibility of its consumer. It is a kind of goodness by proxy. Most of all it exhibits to us the connection, in human beings, of clear realistic vision with compassion. The realism of a great artist is not a photographic realism, it is essentially both pity and justice.

     Herein we find a remarkable redemption of our tendency to conceal death and chance by the invention of forms. Any story which we tell about ourselves consoles us since it imposes pattern upon something which might otherwise seem intolerably chancy and incomplete. However, human life is chancy and incomplete. It is the role of tragedy, and also of comedy, and of painting to show us suffering without a thrill and death without a consolation. Or if there is any consolation it is the austere consolation of a beauty which teaches that nothing in life is of any value except the attempt to be virtuous. [. . .] It is not easy to portray death, real death, not fake prettified death. Even Tolstoy did not manage it in Ivan Ilych, although he did elsewhere. The great deaths of literature are few, but they show us with an exemplary clarity the way in which art invigorates us by a juxtaposition, almost an identification, of pointlessness and value. The death of Patroclus, the death of Cordelia, the death of Petya Rostov. All is vanity. The only thing which is of real importance is the ability to see it all clearly and respond to it justly which is inseparable from virtue. Perhaps one of the greatest achievements of all is to join this sense of absolute mortality not to the tragic but to the comic. [86–87]

 

In intellectual disciplines and in the enjoyment of art and nature we discover value in our ability to forget self, to be realistic, to perceive justly. We use our imagination not to escape the world but to join it, and this exhilarates us because of the distance between our ordinary dulled consciousness and an apprehension of the real. [. . .] The authority of morals is the authority of truth, that is of reality. We can see the length, the extension, of these concepts as patient attention [90/91] transforms accuracy without interval into just discernment. Here too we can see it as natural to the particular kind of creatures that we are that love should be inseparable from justice, and clear vision from respect for the real. [90–91]

 

The love which brings the right answer is an exercise of justice and realism and really looking. The difficulty is to keep the attention fixed upon the real situation and to prevent it from returning surreptitiously to the self with consolations of self-pity, resentment, fantasy and despair. The refusal to attend may even induce a fictitious sense of freedom: I may as well toss a coin. Of course virtue is good habit and dutiful action. But the background condition of such habit and such action, in human beings, is a just mode of vision and a good quality of consciousness. It is a task to come to see the world as it is. [91]

 

Goodness is connected with the attempt to see the unself, to see and respond to the real world in the light of a virtuous consciousness. This is the non-metaphysical meaning of the idea of transcendence to which philosophers have so constantly resorted in their explanations of goodness. 'Good is a transcendent reality' means that virtue is the attempt to pierce the veil of selfish consciousness and join the world as it really is. [93]

 

The indefinability of Good is connected with the unsystematic and inexhaustible variety of the world and the pointlessness of virtue. In this respect there is a special link between the concept of Good and the ideas of Death and Chance. [. . .] A genuine sense of mortality enables us to see virtue as the only thing of worth; and it is impossible to limit and foresee the ways in which it will be required of us. That we cannot dominate the world may be put in a more positive way. Good is mysterious because of human frailty, because of the immense distance which is involved. If there were angels they might be able to define good but we would not understand the definition. [. . .] And if we look outside the self what we see are scattered intimations of Good. There are few places where virtue plainly shines: great art, humble people who serve others. And can we, without improving ourselves, really see these things clearly? [99]

 

Love is the general name of the quality of attachment and it is capable of infinite degradation and is the source of our greatest errors; but when it is even partially refined it is the energy and passion of the soul in its search for Good, the force that joins us to Good and joins us to the world through Good. Its existence is the unmistakable sign that we are spiritual creatures, attracted by excellence and made for the Good. It is a reflection of the warmth and light of the sun. [103]

 

From George Steiner, Real Presences. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1989, 1991.

 

Imagine a society in which all talk about the arts, music and literature is prohibited. In this society all discourse, oral or [4/5] written, about serious books or paintings or pieces of music is held to be illicit verbiage. [4–5]

 

I am imagining a counter-Platonic republic from which the reviewer and critic have been banished; a republic for writers and readers. [5]

 

In short, I am construing a society, a politics of the primary; of immediacies in respect of texts, works of art and musical compositions. The aim is a mode of education, a definition of values devoid, to the greatest possible extent, of ‘meta-texts’: this is to say, of texts about texts (or paintings or music), of academic, journalistic and academic-journalistic — today, the dominant format — talk about the aesthetic. A city for painters, poets, composers, choreographers, rather than one for art, literary, musical or ballet critics or reviewers, either in the market-place or in academe. [6]

 

[. . .] I shall try to elucidate hermeneutics as defining the enactment of answerable understanding, of active apprehension. [7]

An interpreter is a decipherer and communicator of meanings. [. . .] He is, in essence, an executant, one who ‘acts out’ the material before him so as to give it intelligible life. [7]

 

[. . .] interpretation is understanding in action; it is the immediacy of translation. [. . .] it is an act of penetrative response which makes sense sensible. [. . .] Unlike the reviewer, the literary critic, the academic vivisector and judge, the executant invests his own being in the process of interpretation. [8]

Interpretative response under pressure of enactment I shall, using a dated word, call answerability. The authentic experience of understanding, when we are spoken to by another human being or by a poem, is one of responding responsibility. We are answerable to the text, to the work of art, to the musical offering, in a very specific sense, at once moral, spiritual and psychological. [8]

 

Much great poetry [. . .] calls for recitation. The meanings of poetry and the music of those meanings, which we call metrics, are also of the human body. The echoes of sensibility which they elicit are visceral and tactile. There is major prose no less focused on oral articulation. [. . .] most resonant to active comprehension when read aloud. [9]

 

The private reader or listener can become an executant of felt meaning when he learns the poem or the musical passage by heart. To learn by heart is to afford the text or music an indwelling clarity and life-force. Ben Jonson’s term, “ingestion”, is precisely right. What we know by heart becomes an agency in our consciousness, a ‘pace-maker’ in the growth and vital complication of our identity. No exegesis or criticism from without can so directly incorporate within us the formal means, the principles of executive organization of a semantic fact, be it verbal or musical. Accurate recollection and resort in remembrance not only deepen our grasp of the work; they generate a shaping reciprocity between ourselves and that which the heart knows. [9]

 

What is committed to memory and susceptible of recall constitutes the ballast of the self. [10]

 

From William H. Gass, Fiction and the Figures of Life. New York: Knopf, 1970; Boston, Godine, 1979, 2000.

 

A word is a concept made flesh, if you like — the eternal presented as noise. [. . .]

There is a fundamental contradiction in our medium. We work with a marble of flaws. My mind is utterly unlike my body, and unless you’re an angel, so, I am certain, is yours. Poor Descartes really wrote on the problems of poets: word sense and word sound, math and mechanics, the mind and its body, can they touch? And how, pray God, can they resemble? In the act of love, as in all the arts, the soul should be felt by the tongue and the fingers, felt in the skin. So should our sounds come to color up the surface of our stories like a blush. This adventitious music is the only sensory quality our books can have. As Frost observed, even the empty sentence has a sound, or, rather — I should say — is a series of nervous tensions and resolves. No artist dares neglect his own world’s body, for nothing else, nothing else about his book is physical. [29]

 

Nonpersons unperson persons. They kill. For them no one is human. Like cash registers, everyone’s the same, should be addressed, approached, the same: all will go ding and their cash drawers will slide out when you strike the right key.

So I don’t think that it’s the message of a work of art that gives it any lasting social value. On the contrary, insisting on this replaces the work with its interpretation, another way of robbing it of its reality. How would you like to be replaced by your medical dossier, your analyst’s notes? They take much less space in the file. The analogy, I think, [283/284] is precise. The aim of an artist ought to be to bring into the world objects which do not already exist there, and objects which are especially worthy of love. We meet people, grow to know them slowly, settle on some to companion our life. Do we value our friends for their social status, because they are burning in the public blaze? do we ask of our mistress her meaning? calculate the usefulness of our husband or wife? Only too often. Works of art are meant to be lived with and loved, and if we try to understand them, we should try to understand them as we try to understand anyone—in order to know thembetter, not in order to know something else. [283–84]

 

From Wendell Berry, What Are People For? San Francisco: North Point, 1990.

 

At first glance, writing may seem not nearly so much an art of the body as, say, dancing or gardening or carpentry. And yet language is the most intimately physical of all the artistic means. We have it palpably in our mouths; it is our langue, our tongue. Writing it, we shape it with our hands. Reading aloud what we have written — as we must do, if we are writing carefully — our language passes in at the eyes, out at the mouth, in at the ears; the words are immersed and steeped in the senses of the body before they make sense in the mind. They cannot make sense in the mind until they have made sense in the body. [192]

 

From Wendell Berry, Standing By Words. San Fancisco: North Point, 1983.

 

When we reflect that “sentence” means, literally, “a way of thinking” (Latin: sententia) and that it comes from the Latin sentire, to feel, we realize that the concepts of sentence and sentence structure are not merely grammatical or merely academic — not negligible in any sense. A sentence is both the opportunity and the limit of thought — what we have to think with, and what we have to think in. It is, moreover, a feelable thought, a thought that impresses its sense not just on our understanding but on our hearing, our sense of rhythm and proportion. It is a pattern of felt sense. [53]

 

MSH 2020 at Pembroke College, Oxford UK.

B. W. Jorgensen, “Aisthēsis Is Feeling, Say Voices from the Dust.”

Handout B: Prose Narrative Passages for Experiments in Reading Aloud.
 

From Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, ch 15. [Library of America]

 

     But when he did get the thing straightened around he looked at me steady without ever smiling, and says:

     “What do dey stan’ for? I’se gwyne to tell you. When I got all wore out wid work, en wid de callin’ for you, en went to sleep, my heart wuz mos’ broke bekase you wuz los’, en I didn’ k’yer no’ mo’ what become er me en de raf’. En when I wake up en fine you back agin, all safe en soun’, de tears come, en I could a got down on my knees en kiss yo’ foot, I’s so thankful. En all you wuz thinkin’ ‘bout wuz how you could make a fool uv ole Jim wid a lie. Dat truck dah is trash; en trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren’s en makes ‘em ashamed.”

     Then he got up slow and walked to the wigwam, and went in there without saying anything but that. But that was enough. It made me feel so mean I could almost kissed his foot to get him to take it back.

     It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterwards, neither. I didn’t do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn’t done that one if I’d a knowed it would make him feel that way. [709]

 

From Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, ch 31. [Library of America]

 

     I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking — thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ‘stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.

     It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

     “All right, then, I’ll go to hell” — and tore it up.

     It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head, and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn’t. [834–35]

 

From Eudora Welty, “The Wide Net” in Stories, Essays, & Memoir [Library of America].

 

     When he got to his own house, William Wallace saw to his surprise that it had not rained at all. But there, curved over the roof, was something he had never seen before as long as he could remember, a rainbow at night. In the light of the moon, which had risen again, it looked small and of gauzy material, like a lady’s summer dress, a faint veil through which the stars showed.

He went up on the porch and in at the door, and all exhausted he had walked through the front room and through the kitchen when he heard his name called. After a moment, he smiled, as if no matter what he might have hoped for in his wildest heart, it was better than that to hear his name called out in the house. The voice came out of the bedroom.

     “What do you want?” he yelled, standing stock-still.

     Then she opened the bedroom door with the old complaining creak, and there she stood. She was not changed a bit.

     “How do you feel?” he said.

     “I feel pretty good. Not too good,” Hazel said, looking mysterious. [225–26]

 

From Raymond Carver, “A Small, Good Thing” in Collected Stories [Library of America].

 

     Howard was standing at the window with his hands behind his back. He turned around as she came in.

     “How is he?” she said. She went over to the bed. She dropped her purse on the floor beside the nightstand. It seemed to her she had been gone a long time. She touched the child’s face. “Howard?”

     “Dr. Francis was here a little while ago,” Howard said. She looked at him closely and thought his shoulders were bunched a little.

     “I thought he wasn’t coming until eight o’clock this morning,” she said quickly.

     “There was another doctor with him. A neurologist.”

     “A neurologist,” she said.

Howard nodded. His shoulders were bunching, she could see that. “What’d they say, Howard? For Christ’s sake, what’d they say? What is it?”

     “They said they’re going to take him down and run more tests on him, Ann. They think they’re going to operate, honey. Honey, they are going to operate. They can’t figure out why he won’t wake up. It’s more than just shock or concussion, they know that much now. It’s in his skull, the fracture, it has something, something to do with that, they think. So they’re going to operate. I tried to call you, but I guess you’d already left the house.”

     “Oh, God,” she said. “Oh, please, Howard, please,” she said, taking his arms.

     “Look!” Howard said. “Scotty! Look, Ann!” He turned her toward the bed.

     The boy had opened his eyes, then closed them. He opened them again now. The eyes stared straight ahead for a minute, then moved slowly in his head until they rested on Howard and Ann, then traveled away again.

     “Scotty,” his mother said, moving to the bed.

     “Hey, Scott,” his father said. “Hey, son.”

     They leaned over the bed. Howard took the child’s hand in his hands and began to pat and squeeze the hand. Ann bent over the boy and kissed his forehead again and again. She put her hands on either side of his face. “Scotty, honey, it’s Mommy and Daddy,” she said. “Scotty?”

     The boy looked at them, but without any sign of recognition. Then his mouth opened, his eyes scrunched closed, and he howled until he had no more air in his lungs. His face seemed to relax and soften then. His lips parted as his last breath was puffed through his throat and exhaled gently through the clenched teeth. [417–18]

[. . .]

     “Just a minute here,” the baker said. “You want to pick up your three-day-old cake? That it? I don’t want to argue with you, lady. There it sits over there, getting stale. I’ll give it to you for half of what I quoted you. No. You want it? You can have it. It’s no good to me, no good to anyone now. It cost me time and money to make that cake. If you want it, okay, if you don’t, that’s okay, too. I have to get back to work.” He looked at them and rolled his tongue behind his teeth.

     “More cakes,” she said. She knew she was in control of it, of what was increasing in her. She was calm.

     “Lady, I work sixteen hours a day in this place to earn a living,” the baker said. He wiped his hands on his apron. “I work night and day in here, trying to make ends meet.” A look crossed Ann’s face that made the baker move back and say, “No trouble, now.” He reached to the counter and picked up a rolling pin with his right hand and began to tap it against the palm of his other hand.      “You want the cake or not? I have to get back to work. Bakers work at night,” he said again. His eyes were small, mean-looking, she thought, nearly lost in the bristly flesh around his cheeks. His neck was thick with fat.

     “I know bakers work at night,” Ann said. “They make phone calls at night, too. You bastard,” she said.

     The baker continued to tap the rolling pin against his hand. He glanced at Howard. “Careful, careful,” he said to Howard.

     “My son’s dead,” she said with a cold, even finality. “He was hit by a car Monday morning. We’ve been waiting with him until he died. But, of course, you couldn’t be expected to know that, could you? Bakers can’t know everything — can they, Mr. Baker? But he’s dead. He’s dead, you bastard!” Just as suddenly as it had welled in her, the anger dwindled, gave way to something else, a dizzy feeling of nausea. She leaned against the wooden table that was sprinkled with flour, put her hands over her face, and began to cry, her shoulders rocking back and forth. “It isn’t fair,” she said. “It isn’t, isn’t fair.”

     Howard put his hand at the small of her back and looked at the baker. “Shame on you,” Howard said to him. “Shame.”

     The baker put the rolling pin back on the counter. He undid his apron and threw it on the counter. He looked at them, and then he shook his head slowly. He pulled a chair out from under the card table that held papers and receipts, an adding machine, and a telephone directory. “Please sit down,” he said. “Let me get you a chair,” he said to Howard. “Sit down now, please.” The baker went into the front of the shop and returned with two little wrought-iron chairs. “Please sit down, you people.”

     Ann wiped her eyes and looked at the baker. “I wanted to kill you,” she said. “I wanted you dead.”

     The baker had cleared a space for them at the table. He shoved the adding machine to one side, along with the stacks of notepaper and receipts. He pushed the telephone directory onto the floor, where it landed with a thud. Howard and Ann sat down and pulled their chairs up to the table. The baker sat down, too.

     “Let me say how sorry I am,” the baker said, putting his elbows on the table. “God alone knows how sorry. Listen to me. I’m just a baker. I don’t claim to be anything else. Maybe once, maybe years ago, I was a different kind of human being. I’ve forgotten, I don’t know for sure. But I’m not any longer, if I ever was. Now I’m just a baker. That don’t excuse my doing what I did, I know. But I’m deeply sorry. I’m sorry for your son, and sorry for my part in this,” the baker said. He spread his hands out on the table and turned them over to reveal his palms. “I don’t have any children myself, so I can only imagine what you must be feeling. All I can say to you now is that I’m sorry. Forgive me, if you can,” the baker said. “I’m not an evil man, I don’t think. Not evil, like you said on the phone. You got to understand what it comes down to is I don’t know how to act anymore, it would seem. Please,” the man said, “let me ask you if you can find it in your hearts to forgive me?”

     It was warm inside the bakery. Howard stood up from the table and took off his coat. He helped Ann from her coat. The baker looked at them for a minute and then nodded and got up from the table. He went to the oven and turned off some switches. He found cups and poured coffee from an electric coffee-maker. He put a carton of cream on the table, and a bowl of sugar.

     “You probably need to eat something,” the baker said. “I hope you’ll eat some of my hot rolls. You have to eat and keep going. Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this,” he said.

     He served them warm cinnamon rolls just out of the oven, the icing still runny. He put butter on the table and knives to spread the butter. Then the baker sat down at the table with them. He waited. He waited until they each took a roll from the platter and began to eat. “It’s good to eat something,” he said, watching them. “There’s more. Eat up. Eat all you want. There’s all the rolls in the world in here.”

     They ate rolls and drank coffee. Ann was suddenly hungry, and the rolls were warm and sweet. She ate three of them, which pleased the baker. Then he began to talk. They listened carefully. Although they were tired and in anguish, they listened to what the baker had to say. They nodded when the baker began to speak of loneliness, and of the sense of doubt and limitation that had come to him in his middle years. He told them what it was like to be childless all these years. To repeat the days with the ovens endlessly full and endlessly empty. The party food, the celebrations he’d worked over. Icing knuckle-deep. The tiny wedding couples stuck into cakes. Hundreds of them, no, thousands by now. Birthdays. Just imagine all those candles burning. He had a necessary trade. He was a baker. He was glad he wasn’t a florist. It was better to be feeding people. This was a better smell anytime than flowers.

     “Smell this,” the baker said, breaking open a dark loaf. “It’s a heavy bread, but rich.” They smelled it, then he had them taste it. It had the taste of molasses and coarse grains. They listened to him. They ate what they could. They swallowed the dark bread. It was like daylight under the fluorescent trays of light. They talked on into the early morning, the high pale cast of light in the windows, and they did not think of leaving. [422–25]

 

From Genesis 44–45 [AV]: Judah and Joseph.

[paragraphed as it might be in 20th century prose]

 

     18Then Judah came near unto him, and said, Oh my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord's ears, and let not thine anger burn against thy servant: for thou art even as Pharaoh. 19My lord asked his servants, saying, Have ye a father, or a brother? 20And we said unto my lord, We have a father, an old man, and a child of his old age, a little one; and his brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother, and his father loveth him. 21And thou saidst unto thy servants, Bring him down unto me, that I may set mine eyes upon him. 22And we said unto my lord, The lad cannot leave his father: for if he should leave his father, his father would die. 23And thou saidst unto thy servants, Except your youngest brother come down with you, ye shall see my face no more.

     24And it came to pass when we came up unto thy servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. 25And our father said, Go again, and buy us a little food. 26And we said, We cannot go down: if our youngest brother be with us, then will we go down: for we may not see the man's face, except our youngest brother bewith us. 27And thy servant my father said unto us, Ye know that my wife bare me two sons: 28And the one went out from me, and I said, Surely he is torn in pieces; and I saw him not since: 29And if ye take this also from me, and mischief befall him, ye shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.

     30Now therefore when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad be not with us; seeing that his life is bound up in the lad's life; 31It shall come to pass, when he seeth that the lad isnot with us, that he will die: and thy servants shall bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave. 32For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying, If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame to my father for ever.

3     3Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren. 34For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad benot with me? lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father.

     45. 1Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren. 2And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard.

     3And Joseph said unto his brethren, I amJoseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence.

     4And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. 5Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. 6For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest. 7And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8So now it was not you thatsent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt. 9Haste ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him, Thus saith thy son Joseph, God hath made me lord of all Egypt: come down unto me, tarry not: 10And thou shalt dwell in the land of Goshen, and thou shalt be near unto me, thou, and thy children, and thy children's children, and thy flocks, and thy herds, and all that thou hast: 11And there will I nourish thee; for yet there are five years of famine; lest thou, and thy household, and all that thou hast, come to poverty. 12And, behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin, that it is my mouth that speaketh unto you. 13And ye shall tell my father of all my glory in Egypt, and of all that ye have seen: and ye shall haste and bring down my father hither.

     14And he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them: and after that his brethren talked with him.

 

From Luke 15 [AV]: the story of the lost son.

[paragraphed as it might be in 20th century prose]

 

     11And he said, A certain man had two sons: 12And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.

     13And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. 14And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. 15And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.

     17And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, 19And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. 20And he arose, and came to his father.

     But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

     21And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.

     22But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: 23And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: 24For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.

     And they began to be merry.

     25Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. 26And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. 27And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. 28And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.

     29And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: 30But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.

     31And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. 32It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

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